Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Walmart College Station

Walmart as it is today, during a soggy day in May 2019

When this post was originally published in January 2011, it was already a few years old based after an even older post from my old blog, Two Way Roads, so shortly after the old version of this post went "under the knife" to be revitalized for a September 2019 rewrite, parts of it are almost 10 years old. As it was written so long ago, it takes on a distinctly different approach than more modern posts.

By the time I actually did get around to rewriting it, nearly every restaurant, retail, and other place in my youthful days in College Station has been covered, excluding parks, churches, and schools. I've been familiar with the Walmart at 1815 Brothers Boulevard, store #1150 since the mid-1990s. I remember when it expanded from its original 1988 footprint (when the storefront was colored brown--but not much more than that). I remember when blue-vested employees handed out smiley face stickers and there was a lot more American goods there than today. I remember when my family started going here more often because the Kmart across the street closed.

Wal-Mart 1995
Albertsons and Walmart back in 1995. Notice the Walmart completing its first expansion.

Many of the photos seen below are from the 2009-2010 renovation, which seemed exciting at the time and allowed me to better document the 1995-era store as I remembered it. One of my old cell phone pictures below is a map of the emergency evacuation plan, which is a floorplan of the store. It's old because "Radio Grill" was written over McDonald's, and by that time, Radio Grill was long gone.
Floorplan of the store as it appeared pre-renovation

Using the above map as a guide I'll try to walk through the original store. On the immediate right when walking in was the One-Hour Photo booth, a full photo/camera department that could develop film as well as camera and film sales, including the ever-popular disposal camera, you bought one (usually a color like green), you used it up, you returned it to the store and got the photos back. Customer Service was after that. Customer Service had restrooms (admittedly pretty dirty, but remember the "hand" shaped water fountains? I overlaid my hand on them as I pushed them, but eventually they just switched to the regular "PUSH" buttons). I remember they had atlases there, and even at one time, a Daytona USA arcade machine!

The next space over was the new restaurant, initially open as a McDonald's restaurant. This is where the store really opened up. If you looked from McDonald's you could see the checkouts and the way down to the garden area. The McDonald's looked like any McDonald's of the time, complete with a bench with Ronald sitting there. Ronald was a great photo-op (you could sit next to him) but sometime later they removed the bench and replaced him with a creepy (and not at all affable) statue of Ronald standing up. Monster Ronald disappeared when McDonald's closed sometime around 1999. It was replaced with Radio Grill, a vaguely-1950s themed snack bar with greasy hamburgers and hot dogs. While some may liberally toss the "greasy food" label around, Radio Grill was nothing more than that. And forgettable greasy food, since I don't remember much about it. This lasted until 2006, when it was torn out for Subway. Subway was a bit different, featuring a false brick facade, and instead the food in the back, the serving line was on the north side of the area rather than the back.

Directly behind the restaurant was where a lot of the A&M merchandise (shirts, etc.) were kept, with the area nearest the men's section, which had a huge row of jeans.

Along the back wall, there were large pictures that were awfully dated by the late 2000s, one had a family eating watermelon, two boys laughing, a drawing of a moon with some 1990s script lettering. The boys section was where I got most of my clothes (my mother bought them, anyway) growing up, and the jewelry was the place where I got a few of my watches. The dressing room was located in the middle of the women's clothing: a shoddy operation, with only five dressing rooms and only one mens room.

The electronics section was largely a "pen" in the middle of the store, kept that way so they could check out items (as they were high-price). Originally, games were on the left, videos on the right. The games had a scanner system so you could scan a bar code and watch a video of the game on overhead TVs. By 2004, it mostly not working, as was the terrible GBC model they had bolted in to the wall (the right button on the D-pad was completely screwed up by 2001). I remember this because one time I had stayed behind in the electronics section to play The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages. The right button on the D-pad became the least of my concerns when my dad found me...

In 2005, they rearranged the department, so that from left to right (you entered from the right, so it was left to right in your perspective): computer peripherals, DVDs, music, video games, iPods, AV equipment. The electronics section really was a nasty place, as it was cramped and was run-down due to negligent parents using the electronics department as a day care. Early yet random memories include a floor-to-ceiling stack of N64s and either a stand-up Donkey Kong 64 or Pokémon Snap display. Or both. I think the original electronics section became the pharmacy later: our family's now-defunct Performa 550 came from this Wal-Mart, but I don't remember it being the modern electronics section.

The shoe department was another large department with slanted mirrors, and when my siblings and I were kids, we would try to "roll" down the floor as it appeared that the floor was slanted. (Nowadays I can't even imagine touching the floor of Walmart, but it was a different store back then, like not perpetually crowded.)

The hardware section I seem to remember had fans overhanging the section, at least in the beginning. There was also a paint chip (with the paper color strips) center which I remember being abandoned out in the rain (complete with all the old strips) after the renovation happened.

Fabrics was absolutely massive as a department, and had all the thread, rugs, creepy dolls that you can paint, and wax fruit you could ever need. It wasn't as big as Hobby Lobby, but had all the basics (including a particular flowery smell). The actual fabric cutting table was very long and had at least two people and a line. Nowadays the fabric cutting table is just an aisle endcap, and you'd be lucky to see one person there. Additionally, the spray paint section had a vandalized section that was used as "testing". I submitted the photo to Cheezburger when it was still relevant but I don't think they ever posted it officially on Fail Blog, which I still regularly visited when I took this round of photos.

No big memories on toys. I bought a Pokémon board game here and some Matchbox/Hot Wheels cars, but that was long ago (to put it in perspective, I used to get said little cars at Kmart). I don't really have a lot of toy memories: the KB Toys and Toys R Us were both far away from home, and I never went to either. Most prominent section was the bicycles, which ran down the corridor to the Garden Center.

The indoor garden center portion was strongly smelled of chemicals, but that was where we got the Amdro. The HBA department was another large department, it had images of medicine stuff above the pharmacy window, a large seating area, and a large section with shampoos, soaps, toothpastes, over-the-counter medicine (many of Equate, the house brand), hair coloring kits, and more. I believe this is where the 1988 entrance was, and ironically became the new site of the "main" entrance following the 2009-2010 renovation.

The pet section had rack shelving, and on the back wall, there were lots of embedded tanks in the wall with fish with colors on how they'd behave with others (green, yellow, and red). Red fish were aggressive (but there were few of them). Green fish would coexist with others peacefully. The "color" notation eventually disappeared.

The food section had a candy aisle, chips, two-liter sodas, and other dry staples. It was on the other side of the Electronics section, and the wall behind Electronics, which once had spillover from the "Paper Goods / Chemicals" department (like boxes of Kleenexes) later became home to coolers with beer (the license purchased from Albertsons after it closed).

The Vision Center, located to the left from the entrance once had a way that you could run all the way through the Vision Center, out the door, and in through the Wal-Mart main entrance. Near the Vision Center were old refrigerated shelves that had faded red, yellow, and blue striping. They sold milk. There was also a reasonable selection of books and magazines. For years, they sold most of the "Wizard of Oz" series. The garden center was also there, being a humid place where plants were sold.

And up until the early 2000s, there was an occasional tent sale in the parking lot.

Sometime around the mid-2000s, they replaced the carpet in the clothing department with faux hardwood, which quickly got quite nasty-looking from scratching carts, and by the late 2000s the whole store was run-down and filthy.

But around September 2009, the local Wal-Mart decided to finally start remodeling into a Supercenter, ending rumors and putting to rest their plan to open at a proposed shopping center off Rock Prairie Road. And for the next six months or so, I was really excited. I took pictures. I attended the grand opening. I got cake at the grand opening, two types.

But the Supercenter wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. It was really huge in terms of square footage, 254,000 square feet (likely counting the garden center). This put it on par with the late 1980s "hypermarkets". The store's layout also resembled Target in many aspects. Unfortunately, they wasted a lot of space, in the backrooms, in the main store, it was a real disappointment. They actually admitted to lowering shelf height and widening aisles as part of new chainwide merchandising. The lights changed, making the store much more sterile than before. I didn't like it.

Every department shrunk. The electronics section was admittedly more open with even a display Wii, which I'm sure won't last long. Electronics was the only one that didn't downscale dramatically. Everything, Cosmetics, Jewelry, Health & Beauty, Pharmacy, Mens, Pets, Womens, Fabric, Shoes, Vision Center, everything pretty much was sliced down. Not a lot of new checkouts opened up, and they didn't even open a portrait studio in the front arcade area. A larger Subway opened up, however, but the large restaurant was one of the filthiest Subway dining areas I'd seen.

The food section wasn't that impressive: it had HVAC ceilings but plain concrete floors. They didn't bother to do anything to it. And rotesserie chickens, one of my favorite features of the Hewitt Wal-Mart Supercenter, weren't really phased in until months later. I think I got my hopes up, because I was comparing to a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Hewitt that opened in 2003 or 2004. They took out a section of parking lot for a retention pond as well, but did not even add a gas station (Murphy USA) until several yeas later.

Also, the name irritated me: they just called it "Walmart", even though it had a Supercenter inside, due to a recent corporate change that removed the Supercenter signage from the outside of stores. Much to my chagrin, Wal-Mart Supercenter stores in Houston were later repainted tan and redubbed as "Walmart".

Not much sooner had it reopened that it was the opening to an incident that left a Fort Worth police officer critically injured, and shoplifting started to dramatically increase, culminating in a shooting, wherein a military-trained LP officer was forced to shoot a shoplifter, which had both a gun (which he managed to get out of him during a struggle) and a knife. During that time, the Walmart just got as filthy as it did before the remodel, with shoplifting so high that employees harassed customers at the door for a receipt.

Here are the photos taken during the remodeling process. These first ones were taken early on in the process, around October 2009 or so.

The first order of business was to rip into the old Albertsons.

The new pharmacy, then floating in a sea of cheap t-shirts

The new pharmacy, again

A barrier was put up on the side of the store where the addition would come in. As of February 1, 2010, the actual walls had not come down yet, but this is looking up to the ceiling. I never did find out when the walls actually came down.

Old vision center. This was a fairly open area originally, with this part of the lobby in front of the checkout stand. A bench was around here.

Checkout stands have been moved back.

Makeshift vision center. It eventually moved to an alcove spot in front of the store.

This is around Easter break, after the original entrance had closed

A rainy day in February, I believe. This has the original walls of the store, and also proves that the Yelp photo is incorrect.

New signage. Identities obscured.

I'm not sure when this picture was taken. It was early 2010, that's all I know.

Another angle.

Look out! A giant spider! This was what the "Outdoor Living" entrance area looked like when it was new and fully enclosed in early 2010 (as the rest of the pictures were).

Before I got an iPhone, this was my cellphone wallpaper.

This used to be Subway, taken sometime in April or late March.


Velcro board so departments could move around.

In 2016, the store remodeled, mostly changing out décor and signage, moving some departments around, painting the grocery department white (instead of yellow) and tearing out the floor tiles, which had been replaced in 2010 with new tiles, but even the 2010 tiles now had to go for a uniform concrete floor, but with it, I can't find where the 1988 store ends and the 1995 store begins.

UPDATE 05-13-2024: A second remodel was done in 2024. This changed the exterior appearance of the store (mostly repainting) but notably moved the pharmacy and HBA department closer to where it was originally.